Positive Reinforcement

How to train your dog using positive reinforcement

The foundations for a happy, well-adjusted dog are laid down during the early stages of puppyhood with a well structured training program, which should be fun for both you and your dog. There are many methods of training, but the most satisfying for both you and your dog are methods based on positive reinforcement. This means that the dog is rewarded for correct actions.

To train a dog effectively, you should understand how dogs learn. Learning, for a dog, consists of trying out new behaviors and seeing what happens as a consequence of this behavior. If the behavior or action is followed by a good consequence, this behavior will be repeated. For example, begging at the table is rewarded by getting food. However, if the behavior is followed by a negative consequence, the behavior will eventually be stopped. Effective training should work on the same principle. Training should be a combination of information (what you want the dog to do), motivation (a reason for your dog to do it) and timing (when to reward a good action).

Clicker Training is a popular means of training using positive reinforcement. A clicker is a small plastic box containing a strip of metal, which produces a 'click' when pressed. The first step to Clicker Training is finding your dog's motivation. For most dogs, this tends to be a food treat or play. Next, you must associate a positive meaning to the 'click', telling the dog “You have done the right thing and a reward will follow.” This reward needs to be delivered within seconds to be correctly associated with the action your dog has just performed.

Here's an example of how Clicker Training can be used to teach a puppy to sit:
1. Hold a treat in your hand and wait for the puppy's bottom to touch the floor. Be patient, do not be tempted to give a command or place the puppy into a sit. Wait until he eventually sits by himself.
2. As soon as your puppy's bottom touches the floor, click and give him a snack.
3. Repeat this a number of times in short training sessions in a variety of locations.
4. Then begin to say "sit" as your puppy's bottom touches the floor. Continue to give a click and treat. Your dog is now learning that sit does indeed mean putting his bottom on the floor, because he only hears this word when he is in a sitting position.
5. After the above has been repeated a number of times (40–80 times over several short sessions), you can begin to ask your puppy to sit, i.e. give the command before his bottom is on the floor. Continue giving a click and a snack as the puppy sits. But only ask your puppy to sit if you are confident that he will do so.
6. Now that your puppy knows what "sit" means, the clicker is no longer needed for this command, but carry on rewarding intermittently with snacks when he sits on command.


There are many methods of training, and Clicker Training is just one of these. The principle of positive reinforcement should be applied to all training methods. You should aim to reward everything that is positive, desirable behavior and ignore any negative, undesirable behavior. In practice, it is not always easy to ignore all negative behavior. Jumping up at visitors, for example, is an undesirable behavior, that can be difficult to ignore. Try to distract your dog from an undesirable behavior by asking him for a desirable one, for example to sit. If he is then rewarded for sitting, he will be more motivated to sit rather than to jump up.

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